Follow the studentsIndira Karki, 32, has been buffeted by anxiety over the last five weeks. She was tormented not because her son had missed classes for a month...
Ever since schools reopened across the country two weeks ago, a significant numbers of guardians, like Karki, who hail from outside the Valley, have been visiting their wardsí schools to get transfer certificates. Frightened by the mega disaster and the frequent aftershocks, they now want their children to stay close to them and study in schools near their homes.
Karki was in her grocery shop in Bagbazaar when the Great Quake struck. One of the walls of her store crumpled, but fortunately, she escaped the quake unscathed. ìIt was dreadful and we wanted to leave Kathmandu the very day, but we couldnít because we had to manage so many things,î she says. ìNow that we are done with everything, we will be leaving within a few days.î She is planning to enroll her son in a school in Biratnagar, her hometown, and start some business there.
On the very first day that classes resumed, Lacche Bahadur KC, principal at Suryodaya Boarding School and the Chairman of the Private and Boarding Schools Organisation—an umbrella body of private schools—was busy trying to convince parents that another big earthquake was very unlikely and that it was completely safe to live in Kathmandu. For the past two weeks, he has been dealing with the parents of his students who wanted to take their wards away from the Valley and back to their hometowns. Despite his attempts to retain them, around 45 students from his school have either taken transfer papers or informed the school administration that they will not be returning.
Depending on the volume of enrollment, 10 to 100 students per school have quit from the Capitalís schools. There is not a single school in the Valley that has not seen a decrease in the number of students. Those who are shifting from the schools in the Capital come mainly from the southern belt of the country or those from other areas who used to live in hostels.
A rough estimation by the District Education Offices and the umbrella bodies of the private schools in the Valley shows that at least 10 percent of the students (around 60, 000 of them) enrolled in schools within the Valley prior to the quake will not return from their home districts now. That decrease in numbers could have a huge impact on whether the private schools will be able to remain afloat, while dozens of public schools, which were struggling to meet their targeted minimum enrolments, may either shut down or merge with other schools.
Across the nation, private schools, especially in the Valley, have been the first choices for those from the middle- and upper- classes, while a significant numbers of students in the public schools come from families that make a living through roadside businesses, daily wage labour or other such jobs. Many of them also hail from various states in India.
The decrease in the numbers of students will increase the operation costs for schools in the Valley, which could even result in the closure of such schools, say private school operators. Many education experts, however, donít see the reasons for the pessimism.
They believe that such a trend will increase competition among schools, which could help enhance the overall quality of education in the country. The decrease in the number of students in the Capital could also prompt the private sectors to invest in schools outside the Valley, thereby helping decentralise education.
ìEven though we had to wait for a disaster for this idea to get mooted on a larger scale, I am hopeful that schools will now get better around the country,î says Bishnu Karki, an education expert. ìThe exodus of students outwards from the centre could spur educational improvement outside of it.
According to Karki, if students stop coming to Kathmandu, the private sector will see the benefit in investing in good schools at the local level, which in turn will stanch the ever-increasing flow of students into the Valley. In his view, because the country already has plans to become a federal state, it has come time to plan for the decentralisation of education as well.
Karkiís reasoning makes sense, and he thinks the government should be convinced to come up with a plan to provide incentives to investors who want to set up institutions in the districts. The private sector will invest wherever they see business prospects. If the students shift away from the centre, demand will shift to these places too.
Private sector leaders say that they are ready to invest in and set up proper academic institutions outside the Valley if the government supports them. They say that the government should, however, first come up with a concrete plan to promote private schools outside the Valley. The government could provide tax subsidies or soft loans to them to expedite the ventures.
ìWe are ready to establish academic institutions that provide quality education across the country, but the government should create an environment that makes it possible for this to happen,î says Umesh Shrestha, Nepali Congress lawmaker and a pioneer of private education in the country.